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A common belief motivates the desire for Christian unity

A family can be a diverse entity. Siblings, sharing their parents' genetic material and growing up in the same environment, are often dramatically different. Even though a family shares common bonds of love, a family may experience disunity.


A family can be a diverse entity. Siblings, sharing their parents' genetic material and growing up in the same environment, are often dramatically different. Even though a family shares common bonds of love, a family may experience disunity. Occasionally, sources of disagreement contribute to rupture family relations. A whole lot of energy, dialogue and therapy may be necessary to restore unity.


The universal Christian church is not unlike a family. Sharing a core belief in the cross and resurrection of Jesus, believers adhere to varying doctrines and practices. Over the centuries, diverse theological interpretations have led to the establishment of a staggering number of Christian churches. One estimate suggests that worldwide there are over 33,000 different Christian churches.


Church history pinpoints the first major split in 1054 with the schism between the Byzantine Church and the bishop of Rome. The second major split occurred with the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century.


A reading of scripture suggests that even as early as fifty years after the death of Jesus, the nascent Christian church was faced with divisive issues.


The church in Corinth, for example, was in turmoil. Spiritual pride threatened unity. There was disagreement over church leadership. There was confusion regarding morality. The community was divided along socio-economic lines.


The church in Galatia had to deal with theological questions arising from different cultural practices. Some Jewish Christians in Galatia expected Gentile Christians to follow the Law of Moses regarding circumcision and dietary restrictions. The debate threatened the cohesiveness of the community.


Saint Paul's response to the disunity in the early Christian communities was to refocus believers on the love of Christ and on the foundational belief of Christianity: "Christ died for our sins...was buried, and ...raised on the third day... and he appeared ..."(I Corinthians 15:3-6). For Paul, baptism united all believers with Christ and made it possible for them to live lives worthy of the love of Christ.


Paul compared the members of the troubled church at Corinth to a body. Just as each part of the body has its specific function, each member of the church has a gift that is to be used to build up the community. Together, the many members of the church form the body of Christ. A healthy church is one that works together.


Today, the universal Church continues to struggle with differences in doctrine, practice and in approaches to moral issues. At the grassroots level, Christians may be ignorant about their fellow Christians or indifferent to them. Congregations may fear a loss of identity and independence if they unite with others.


Towards the end of January, Canadian Christians observed the annual week of prayer for Christian unity. Established in 1894, the week of prayer is an important ecumenical initiative.


The ecumenical movement seeks to promote unity, not through the assimilation of churches, but through common prayer, shared spirituality and theological reflection. Dialogue between churches helps to promote a common witness to the love of Christ. This witness is lived out in worship, social gatherings, service to the poor and marginalized, and in actions for peace and justice around the globe.


Ecumenism reminds the diverse Christian family of churches of its common belief: we are one body in Christ, who suffered, died, was buried, and rose from the dead. This is our genetic family material, the motivation for our unity in diversity.

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